Summary A Black Anger: Letter to my Son – Ta-Nehisi Coates

→ The Black Revolt – A Popular History of US Society After 1945

Summary I (A Black Anger: Letter to My Son – Ta-Nehisi Coates)

Ta-Nehisi Coates begins his letter with the word, “Son”. His son is 15 years old at the time.

He tells her about this interview he gave for a program broadcast from Washington. The presenter wants to know why:

I was saying that the progress of white America – or rather the progress of these Americans who think they are white, of these believers – was based on plunder and violence.

Black Anger: Letter to My Son – Ta-Nehisi Coates

The author indeed speaks in the first person since this is a letter.

And Ta-Nehisi Coates points out the betrayals of democracy in America: “torture, theft and slavery.

The problem is not that the people did not rule the United States, but that a certain part of the population was excluded from the people.

Race is born out of racism, not the other way around.

Black Anger: Letter to My Son – Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates notes that damage occurs when we no longer simply notice differences, but establish a hierarchy in those differences, such as skin color.

Ta-Nehisi Coates movingly discusses all the forms of torture that have been inflicted on people who are ‘different’. He criticizes the fact that America believes itself to be ‘great’, ‘exceptional’ and the best bulwark against the barbarians. But it does not understand that it has its own faults.

The author lists again the people who have been killed recently, and whose stories his son has not missed – at least if his son is not aware of it, he wants to remind the readers, because he knows that he will be read by others.

It is still a question of the body, a very important theme in this book, when Ta-Nehisi Coates speaks of” destroying your body” or when he evokes the different disciplines that“all end up attacking the body with an unheard of violence“.

The police departments in your country have been given the power to destroy your body.

Black Anger: Letter to My Son – Ta-Nehisi Coates

But the reporter at the end of the show still talks to him about “hope”, and Ta-Nehisi Coates becomes sad: he has failed to make his point.

how to live with a black body in a country lost in the Dream

Black Anger: Letter to My Son – Ta-Nehisi Coates

The author takes a few more swipes at America’s grandiosity:

America sees itself as God’s handiwork, but the black body is clear evidence that it is only man’s creation

Black Anger: Letter to My Son – Ta-Nehisi Coates

Another theme that Ta-Nehisi Coates brings up is fear. Fear surrounded black people, they lived with fear. Ta-Nehisi Coates gives one anecdote after another in which fear arises, sad anecdotes, which show the violence against black people.

This fear is also a matter of“neighborhoods”. The socio-geography is important to understand the threats present in the Black communities, which“constituted a world apart”.

Two worlds face each other in America: the world of the Blacks, and the other world,“where children did not constantly fear for their bodies”.

This is a glaring injustice for Ta-Nehisi Coates. It also hurts him when his son has grown up differently, and is no longer as aware of this injustice.

That is where you and I are very different. Those old rules may be a little familiar to you, but they are not as essential to you as they were to me.

Black Anger: A Letter to My Son – Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates has developed “survival” reflexes. Greet respectfully, avoid dangerous neighborhoods, etc. When he was accosted, he would cower, or run away before returning with something to respond to.

However, he has no outlines to turn his son into a tough guy, or to teach him street cred, because he has no nostalgia for those days.

The street was not the only problem: there was also the problem of school. For school, Ta-Nehisi Coates holds more grudges.

The world had no time for black girls’ childhoods and ways. How would the school have it?

A Black Anger: Letter to My Son – Ta-Nehisi Coates

And the author brings it back to the question of the body: why does free will have as its “flip side the assault we put on our bodies”?

Ta-Nehisi Coates was not a believer, because neither were his parents.

I came to see the street and the school as two arms of the same monster.

Black Anger: A Letter to My Son – Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates began to question the history he was being taught. He was full of questions. He talks about his “ancestors”: “Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman, Nanny, Cudjoe, Malcolm X.”.

For Ta-Nehisi Coates, Mecca was Howard University. What is Mecca?

Mecca is a machine, designed to collect and concentrate the dark energy of all African peoples and inject it directly into the bodies of students.

Black Anger: Letter to My Son – Ta-Nehisi Coates

The black diaspora, close to power, was gathered in Mecca.

Ta-Nehisi Coates calls for a new history. Told through the prism of the Black struggle. His Bible was The Destruction of Black Civilization by Chancellor Williams, he says. It was at Howard that he met “Uncle Ben”, his son’s uncle, who became a“lifelong companion”.

But the story Ta-Nehisi Coates wants to create for himself is doomed to failure, so the history teachers at Howard make him understand.

They saw it as their duty to defend me against the illusion of history turned into a weapon. They had already seen so many malcolmists come and go.

Black Anger: A Letter to My Son – Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates fell in love with two women, a California girl, and“another girl” who“went from women to men,”who slept with whomever she wanted, thereby declaring to the world that she was the mistress of her body.” Then he fell one last time, from the mother of his son.

She and I never planned anything – not even you.

A Black Anger: Letter to My Son – Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates had left “Mecca” without a degree, and was living off his precarious job: a freelance writer.

The struggle is written in you, Samori – you bear the name of Samory Touré, who fought the French colonizers for the right to enjoy his own black body.

Black Anger: Letter to My Son – Ta-Nehisi Coates

Summary II (A Black Anger: Letter to My Son – Ta-Nehisi Coates)

Undergoing a police stop, Ta-Nehisi Coates is afraid. When he reads in the newspaper later that the police have killed another black man, he thinks it could have been him.

The author is shocked when he learns that Prince Carmen Jones is dead, at the hands of a police officer. The family goes to his funeral.

They go to New York shortly before September 11, 2001. These were not times that Ta-Nehisi Coates considers happy when they lived in Brooklyn. He was constantly on guard, uncomfortable when he walked around.

If Ta-Nehisi Coates had no material means, he was surrounded, he “was loved”.

The author describes New York. Then he comes to talk about a certain summer, and the Civil War.

At the beginning of the Civil War, our stolen bodies were worth four billion dollars, more than all American industry, all American railroads (…) Our bodies were chained by the first presidents.

Black Anger: Letter to My Son – Ta-Nehisi Coates

The author points to the narrative of the Civil War: slavery is presented too favorably. “This lie of the Civil War is the lie of innocence; it is the Dream.”